As a victim of sexual abuse, you might have difficulty getting justice and finding closure from one of the most painful parts of your life. We offer compassionate and professional advice and advocate for people who were sexually abused as children.
We hold accountable adult predators and any institution that has sheltered them, such as a foster care, church or youth organization.
The impact of child sexual abuse can last a lifetime. We can assist you in finding legal help to pursue a case against your abuser.
What is sexual abuse?
The American Psychological Association defines sexual abuse as any sexual activity perpetrated by one person against another without their consent.
Although the terms sexual violence and sexual assault are used interchangeably with the term sexual abuse, for the most part, child sexual abuse refers to sexual contact with a minor child. Children and minors are not legally able to consent to sexual activity.
Sexual abuse takes many forms, including:
Fondling or groping
Exposing a child to pornography or sexual images
Forcing a child to watch the predator masturbate
Attempted penetration, rape or sodomy
Rape, including oral or anal sodomy or other penetration
If you are not sure where to turn,
RAINN can help.
Call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to talk confidentially with a trained professional from RAINN.
They can put you in touch with local resources and organizations that can help in your healing journey.
If you want to speak to a lawyer about your experience, we can help.
Sexual Abuse and Grooming
Sadly, victims of sexual abuse often know their abusers. These predators manipulate a relationship of trust and a power imbalance in a process called grooming.
Grooming is a slippery slope in which the abuser gains the child’s trust, pursuing a relationship in order to put the child at ease. As the bond develops, the abuser may begin gradually touching the victim or introducing them to inappropriate sexual images and contact.
Because the victim becomes enmeshed with the abuser, they may believe they are responsible for the abuse or were willing participants. Groomers count on this and emotionally manipulate the victims to keep secrets.
Sometimes, a threat may be involved, so the victim is afraid to speak out for fear of their family coming to harm. Other times, an abuser may shower the victim with affection, gifts and money. The victim may not want to lose the affection and may therefore keep the secret.
With institutional sexual abuse, in which the perpetrator holds power or position in an organization that the victim is also part of, the secret-keeping may be more intense.
In cases of sexual abuse within a church, Boy Scouts, sports team or foster care, the victim may fear that no one in the organization will believe them—a belief that abusers often reinforce.
The Power Dynamic of Institutional Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse by a trusted leader, such as a scoutmaster, priest, sports coach or foster parent, can be even more insidious because of the power imbalance between the victim and abuser.
In the case of church sexual abuse, victims may feel more guilt and shame than usual.
Many churches, like the Catholic Church or the Southern Baptist Church, frown on sexual intercourse and activity before marriage and claim that engaging in it is a sin. Victims therefore not only fight the fear, guilt and shame common among childhood abuse survivors but may also be manipulated by their religious upbringing.
Power imbalance naturally occurs between an adult and a child. In cases of institutional sexual abuse, the child may be part of a youth group or sports team or rely on foster parents for food, shelter and support.
These children may look up to the abuser or see them as an authority figure. This can make it easier for predators to groom young victims. Additionally, a victim may not feel comfortable rejecting unwanted sexual contact or conversations because of the perceived authority of the abuser.
Justice for Survivors Under the California Child Victims Act
Many sexual abuse survivors may believe justice is not possible as there is a statute of limitations for filing criminal charges for sexual abuse. However, there may be hope for many.
In 2019, California passed the California Child Victims Act, effective in January 2020. It extends the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse survivors to pursue civil action against their abusers.
The act also expands the legal definition of childhood sexual abuse to include sexual assault, allowing more offenses against a minor to be actionable and helping more abuse victims find a sense of closure.
The new time limit to file a claim is 22 years after the victim’s 18th birthday,
or within five years from the date a sexual abuse victim discovered that a psychological injury that occurred in adulthood resulted from the childhood abuse.
For example, many victims have chronic depression and anxiety or may have substance abuse disorders, using drugs or alcohol to dull the pain and shame of abuse. Oftentimes, once these people begin therapy and treatment, the trauma of childhood sexual abuse that they have been suppressing rises to the surface.
Some victims may have blocked the abuse from their memory entirely and therefore may not have even been able to press charges. Now, victims in California can legally seek justice for abuse that happened to them a long time ago.
Finally, California AB 218, the legal name of the California Child Victims Act, also provides a three-year “look back” window.
During this window, which started in January 2020 and ends in December 2022, all childhood sexual abuse victims in California may file a civil action for damages against their abuser, no matter how long ago the abuse happened.